Columns

Love for 'Miss Lou'

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, September 06, 2019

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The thing about writing a column every week for many years is that you can go back in time to see how the more things change they also remain the same. In preparation for the 100 days of celebration which will take place to recognise the centenary birthday of Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou), I cracked open my scrapbook of past columns. The publication on September 10, 2010 under the headline 'Run, cook, sing… but don't say nutten' included the following: “To some people, Jamaican patois is nothing more than 'chat bad' designed to make our children fail exams… Why do we keep returning to this argument about the value of Jamaican patois? If it is so useless and incomprehensible, why is it still alive? Languages disappear when nobody wants to use them. Ours refuses to roll over and die, so obviously we still have use for it. That is what Miss Lou tried to get us to accept.”

I wonder how many people see the upcoming celebration of Miss Lou as a retrograde move? A mistaken case of bigging up one of the things we are still feeling ashamed of — our Jamaican patois?

A friend reasoned that some of the unease about how we talk and express ourselves is that it can come across aggressive and angry. She pointed out how it annoyed her to hear recitations of Miss Lou's fine work being reduced to a tracing match. The nuances of the language become flattened into a coarse, brawling production. If you ever heard the poems as said by Louise, there was never a descent into verbal war.

In her work, Miss Lou would explore the things that disappointed or even brought us to anger, but she used humour to “kibba heart bun”. The words were never vindictive or destructive, even if they were stern or showed disapproval. Maybe it would do us good to take a closer look at Miss Lou's work to understand the deeper roots in her words.

Her poem Nuh Lickle Twang, which often gets a cass-cass rendition, is a pointed commentary on how some of us only find value in “foreign tings”. What a shame that a son could go all the way to 'Merica, the promised land, and come back “not a piece better than when yuh did go weh”. Notice that better in this case meant having material things — “a gold teet or gold chain round yuh neck”.

As we take this time to celebrate one of our greatest cultural icons, spend a little more time to look back on her impact. She didn't just give us poems that celebrated how we talked. She gave us the strength to believe that our culture, our Jamaican-ness, was worthy and that we don't need to throw away what we have and “tek-up forrin tings” to feel that we've reached somewhere. Aii-yaah-yaiii!

Remembering Noel Dexter

Jamaican composer and musical director Noel Dexter was sent off in glorious style at the University Chapel, on The University of the West Indies Mona Campus, on Monday of this week. As the rains came down, there was no dampening of the joyful memories shared by friends, family, well-wishers, and colleagues who paid tribute to a musical maestro.

Dexter created many works that have captured the essence of Jamaican and Caribbean culture. He gave us songs like Sing de Chorus (clap yuh hand) and beautiful arrangements of biblical works including Psalms 27 and 150. He was a true gentleman and he will be missed by those whose lives he touched. Rest well, Noel.

Our hearts go out to The Bahamas

That dastardly Hurricane Dorian moved in like the worst of squatters and took up unwanted residence, pouring out misery and destruction on some of the islands in The Bahamas. The last count of those who lost their lives numbered 20, and other reports stated thousands have been left homeless and in deep distress.

The international community is mobilising efforts to send aid and assistance in this dire time. The Jamaican Government has activated a disaster response team and soldiers from the Jamaica Defence Force along with other responders are already on their way to lend a hand.

For those who wish to offer help, disaster officials have said that it is better to donate money than to send supplies. Stay tuned to the media for ways in which donations can be given. Let's do what we can to help. There are many Jamaicans who have sought out opportunities in The Bahamas. No matter how hard things are, we must try to help our fellow brothers and sisters. We have received help when we have been on the receiving end. Let us “pay it forward”.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com.


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